Writer: Kandahar Bustling, But Violent
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan, situated at the crossroads of centuries-old trade routes, linking southern and central Asia. It's also the birthplace of the Taliban, and it has become a crucial battleground in the war for Afghanistan's future.
For the past 18 months, Dutch writer and journalist Alex Strick van Linschoten has been living in downtown Kandahar, far from the fortified compounds in Kabul where most foreigners live. In his writings, Strick van Linschoten describes a stark, isolated place where bombings, death and assassinations are considered routine. A place where the Taliban are a fact of life.
Alex Strick van Linschoten joins us now to tell us more about what he's learned living among the Taliban. Welcome to the program.
Mr. ALEX STRICK VAN LINSCHOTEN (Journalist): Hi, Michele. How are you?
NORRIS: Alex, first of all, how did you come to live in Kandahar?
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: The reality is that I ended up in Kandahar kind of by mistake. When I first came to Afghanistan back in 2003, and while I was traveling around the country, of all the places that I went to, Kandahar was always the most interesting and the place where I could have the most access to interesting and historic things that were happening on a daily basis.
NORRIS: Could you describe what daily life in Kandahar is like?
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: Life in Kandahar is somewhat like life in Kabul. I mean, it's a bustling market town on an important kind of trade cross routes. So, you know, lots of jingly trucks, they're called, passing through the town. In a bazaar, you know, everything is being sold.
NORRIS: And yet, you describe violence. In your writings, you say that violence is just a daily fact of life there.
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: Yeah, violence is a daily fact of life there. But at the same time, it's almost so pervasive that it's become something that you don't need to remark on. You know, there'll be an explosion one day and for about half an hour afterwards, you and your friends might think about it, might discuss it. But, really, by the next day, something else has happened and you've forgotten it. It's become very much part of the routine.
NORRIS: Have you been able to penetrate what we in the West, or here in America, would call the Taliban?
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: I wouldn't say that I've been able to penetrate the Taliban. You know, one of the interesting things about Kandahar is that the Taliban are such a pervasive and every day and almost you don't even need to note their presence. It's assumed that they're everywhere in the city.
So, it's always very interesting to my mind the way that people in the West see the conflict and the people in Kandahar see the conflict. People in the West see, you know, two sides. You've got, let's say the government and foreign forces on one side and the Taliban on the other side. Whereas in Kandahar, the lines are much more blurred, and the people in the government are very often talking to the people in the Taliban.
You know, a few months ago, they switched all the army and police radios, handsets to, you know, a new system and they exchanged them all out. And these new handsets, they can't talk to the Taliban over their radios, which they were doing before.
NORRIS: Why were they having that kind of communication with the Taliban?
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: People in Kandahar are very pragmatic. And while we in the West may see the foreign forces and so on as having this big mission and it's going to last a long time and so on, the people in Kandahar see the end on the horizon. And, you know, in the end, once the foreign forces leave, they're going to have to live with whoever comes in and this continuing to have a conversation with someone. Even though the next day, they're the guys shooting at you is just a part of that.
NORRIS: You know, for someone who lives outside of the protected zone in Kandahar, it seems like writing about your experiences would carry some degree of risk. Why have you decided to raise your profile this way?
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: It's very clear now that what's going on in Washington and in America in general in terms of the public debate, could have a very big effect on not only my life, but on the lives of many of my friends in Kandahar. And one of the reasons for writing this article is to contribute, I guess, in some way to this debate. And I guess convey just the simple idea, you know, stop and think about things before you send 40,000 more troops down to Southern Afghanistan without any real sense of what they're going to do.
NORRIS: Alex, thank you very much for speaking to us.
Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That's Alex Strick van Linschoten. He writes in the current Foreign Policy magazine about being one of only a few Westerners living without security in Kandahar.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're doing something unusual. We'll devote an entire hour of the program to big questions, such as the ones Strick van Linschoten just raised, about the future of military involvement in Afghanistan.
We'll explore what's next for the United States in Afghanistan with our reporters in Kabul, Kandahar and here in Washington. And we'll talk with experts on politics, military strategy and public opinion about the challenges and strategic choices the U.S. faces.
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